I asked Ketut, my old medicine man, "What do you know about romance?" He said, "What is this, romance?"
"No--what it is? What this word means?"
"Romance." I defined. "Women and men in love. Or sometimes men and men in love, or women and women in love. Kissing and sex and marriage--all that stuff."
"I not make sex with too many people in my life, Liss. Only with my wife."
"You're right--that's not too many people. But do you mean your first wife or your second wife?"
"I only have one wife, Liss. She dead now." "What about Nyomo?"
"Nyomo not really my wife, Liss. She the wife of my brother." Seeing my confused expression, he added, "This typical Bali," and explained. Ketut's older brother, who is a rice farmer, lives next door to Ketut and is married to Nyomo. They had three children together. Ketut and his wife, on the other hand, were unable to have any children at all, so they adopted one of Ketut's brother's sons in order to have an heir. When Ketut's wife died, Nyomo began living in both family compounds, splitting her time between the two households, taking care of both her husband and his brother, and tending to the two families of her children. She is in every way a wife to Ketut in the Balinese manner (cooking, cleaning, taking care of household religious ceremonies and rituals) except that they don't have sex together.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Too OLD!" he said. Then he called Nyomo over to relay the question to her, to let her know that the American lady wants to know why they don't have sex with each other. Nyomo about died laughing at the very thought of it. She came over and punched me in the arm, hard.
"I only had one wife," Ketut went on. "And now she dead."
"Do you miss her?"
A sad smile. "It was her time to die. Now I tell you how I find my wife. When I am twenty-seven years, I meet a girl and I love her."
"What year was that?" I asked, desperate as always to figure out how old he is. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe 1920?"
(Which would make him about a hundred and twelve by now. I think we're getting closer to solving this . . .)
"I love this girl, Liss. Very beautiful. But not good character, this girl. She only want money. She chase other boy. She never tell truth. I think she had a secret mind inside her other mind, nobody can see inside there. She stop to loving me, go away with other boy. I am very sad. Broken in my heart. I pray and pray to my four spirit brothers, ask why she not anymore love me? Then one of my spirit brothers, he tell me the truth. He say, 'This is not your true match. Be patient.' So I be patient and then I find my wife. Beautiful
woman, good woman. Always sweet for me. Never once we argue, have always harmony in household, always she smiling. Even when no money at home, always she smiling and saying how happy she is to see me. When she die, I very sad in my mind."
"Did you cry?"
"Only little bit, in my eyes. But I do meditation, to clean the body from pain. I meditate for her soul. Very sad, but happy, too. I visit her in meditation every day, even to kissing her. She the only woman I ever make sex with. So I do not know . . . what is new word, from today?"
"Yes, romance. I do not know romance, Liss." "So it's not really your area of expertise, eh?" "What is this, expertise? What this word means?"